Questions frequently asked of OR Melling, plus a few she bunged in herself.
1. What does the O.R. stand for?
They are the first two letters of the name “Orla” which is a common Irish female name sometimes spelled Orlaith or Orlagh.
2. Is it your real name?
Nope. It’s my pseudonym or pen-name. I borrowed the name from my very first best friend. She was also my first loss, as I had to say goodbye to her when my family emigrated from Ireland to Canada when I was five years old.
3. Why do you use a pen-name?
I wanted to keep a part of my life private from my writing life. Also, I felt that my real name wasn’t very magical like, say, JRR Tolkien’s, whose name looks elvish, don’t you think? Also, many of my favourite authors when I was young had initials for their names, e.g. CS Lewis, E Nesbit, PL Travers, AA Milne, JM Barrie.
4. What is your real name?
I used to say it was a secret and then I found it was all over the Internet! I guess there are no secrets left in this modern world. Nowadays I sometimes use my real name as a literary critic, so I’ll write it here: GV Whelan. And just to really confuse matters, lately I have decided to go by my middle name instead of my first name. Identity issues? Who? Me?
5. How old are you?
I am as ancient as the stars.
6. How much money do you make?
7. What were your favourite books when you were a kid?
The first books I ever ‘read’ were Babar the Elephant books. In my family there wasn’t a lot of money for books, but when you reached a certain age (where you wouldn’t rip the pages) my father would take you to the library and you could get out one book on his card. This was before we were old enough to have our own cards. As well as Babar, I loved Madeleine and Rupert the Bear.
I first read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was 9 and The Lord of the Rings when I was 12. These were my favourite books as an older child and adolescent, and they are still my favourite books as an adult. I have also read all of C.S. Lewis’s adult books including his theological works and science fiction, but I think the Narnian Chronicles are his best. (These two series plus Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Mary Webb’s Precious Bane are the only books I re-read!)
When I young, I read somewhere that E. Nesbit was C.S. Lewis’s favourite writer when he was a kid, so I read all of her books too! My favourites were Five Children and It, Harding’s Luck and The House of Arden. I also loved Alan Garner’s Celtic books – The Weirdstone of Brisinghamen, The Moon of Gomrath, Elidor, and The Owl Service. Also, Eleanor Farjeon’s Martin Pippin books, Philippa Pierce’s Carbonnel books, The Ship That Flew (can’t remember the author but it’s a great book), Doris Lessing’s Canopus Series, and John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights. Oh, yes, and all of Mary Poppins – the books, but not the movie!
Well, as you can see, I mostly read ‘magic books’ when I was young. I was not in the slightest bit interested in ‘realistic fiction’. Ugh. Too dull. I also loved mythology, especially Greek, Norse, Roman and Arthurian myth, historical fiction like Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth and anything I could find on Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, also Andrew Lang’s different coloured fairy books (The Blue Fairy Book, The Violet Fairy Book and so on ). I liked to read easier stuff as well, super-hero comics, Millie the Model, and girl adventure books like Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon.
8. Do you read fantasy now?
I still read Young Adult fantasy. Some of my favourite authors (many of whom are friends!) are Kate Thompson, Isobelle Carmody, Cornelia Funke, Michael Scott, Garth Nix, Philip Pullman and, of course, JK Rowling. Most adult fantasy does not appeal to me but I love the kind of work that is called “mythic fiction” by authors such as Charles De Lint and Terri Windling.
9. What else do you read?
I read a wide range of non-fiction including travel, philosophy, theology (sufiism, theosophy, Tibetan Buddhism, shamanism), depth psychology (Stan Grof, Jung, James Hollis), literature, and every kind of poetry.
10. Who are your favourite poets?
Rainer Maria Rilke, Paula Meehan, Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, WB Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh, Rumi, Pat Ingoldsby (Dublin street poet), Padraic Fiacc, Elizabeth Smart (By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept – oh so exquisite!),
11. Favourite TV shows?
Well, I’ve disconnected my cable so I don’t watch a lot now, but throughout my life I’ve been a Star Trek fan. Started young, when Captain Kirk and Mr Spock were in charge and they appeared in black and white! My favourite captains, however, are Picard and Janeway. After Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire-Slayer definitely comes next. After Buffy, I loved Dead Like Me (see favourite moment below). Must confess also to watching The Gilmore Girls (sort of reminds me of my daughter and myself but with way more caffeine!) and, gasp, The O.C.
12. Favourite movies?
Darby O’Gill and the Little People (first movie I ever saw), all the Father Bing Crosby movies (still love them!), Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (though I would have preferred more story and less battles), Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders (angels in Berlin), They Might Be Giants with Joanne Woodward and George C, Scott (modern Don Quixote), Pride and Prejudice with Kiera Knightly and Matthew MacFadyen (sigh), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and everything ever made by the Polish genius Krzysztof Kieslowski, including his pieces for television.
13. Favourite music?
This could go on and on! I can’t write without music, there’s always a CD playing, but here are a few: Runrig (especially The Gaelic Collection), Peatbog Faeries, Martyn Bennett (techno-bagpiper), Pink Floyd, Máire ni Bhreatnach, David Bowie (old stuff), Madonna (especially the Ray of Light album), Stan Rogers, Brian Eno, Martin Springett, Joni Mitchell, Bjork, Weird Sisters, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Julian Bream (especially lute), Aaron Skittri (lute and theorbo), John Williams (especially with Julian Bream), Susan Aglukark, Zbigniew Preisner, Cat Stevens/Yussuf Islam, Howard Shore’s soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings, Steeleye Span, Pádraigín ní Ullachaín, Paul Simon (Graceland!), Sheila Chandra, Altan, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Alan Stivell, Capercaille, Kate Bush, Christy Moore, Van Morrison, The Chieftains, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Plantxy, Thin Lizzy, June Tabor, Lasairfhíona ní Chaonaola, Joanna Newsom.
14. Favourite musical instruments?
Lute, wired-string harp, hammer dulcimer, lambeg drum, and bagpipes (but not all at the same time).
15. Favourite Moment to do with my books.
My daughter and I were sitting on the sofa watching one of our favourite programmes, Dead Like Me, when up comes the scene where the younger sister is sitting under the ‘toilet tree’ reading a book. I was paying attention to the mother who had just arrived, when my daughter suddenly says, “hey, mum, that looks like your book.” Next minute the camera zooms in and yes, there it is, the blue edition of The Chronicles of Faerie!!! We roared the roof off. That was even more exciting than spotting someone reading my work on the bus (which hasn’t happened yet).
16. Favourite lines of poetry?
These are the ashes of fiery weather,
Of nights full of the green stars from Ireland,
Wet out of the sea, and luminously wet,
Like beautiful and abandoned refugees.
From Wallace Stevens, “Our Stars Come from Ireland”
17. Favourite languages?
I try to keep up my French which I could speak well when I was younger. I can speak some Spanish and I intend to learn Japanese. I adore Latin and studied it to Master’s Degree level (classical and mediaeval). But my favourite language of all is, of course, Irish, my ancestral tongue. I’ve been trying to learn it for over three decades now. With any luck I will be liofa on my deathbed for I do believe gan teanga, gan anam. “No language, no soul.”
18.Who are your favourite comedians?
French and Saunders, Des Bishop, Michael McIntyre, Billy Connolly, Dara O'Briain, Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan and, when I was a kid, Phyllis Diller, Red Skelton, and Don Rickles.
19. Who are your historical and/or mythical heros?
Plato, Aspasia of Athens, Sappho, Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Robin Hood, King Arthur, Hildegard of Bingen, St Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Elizabeth the First, Granuaile, Lord Durham, Charles Stewart Parnell, Michael Collins, Christina Noble, Mother Amma.
20. Who are your modern-day heroes?
Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson, Pierre Trudeau, Bernadette Devlin, Veronica Guerin, Germaine Greer, Nell McCafferty, Michael Moore, Ralph Nader, Yitzchak Rabin